2019, PG-13, 102 min. Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Emilia Clarke, Madison Ingoldsby, Emma Thompson, Boris Isakovic, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 8, 2019
There are so many incredible aspects to Last Christmas, it’s difficult to figure out where to begin. It’s akin to an unexpected present received from a friend on that titular day, a surprising tonic to a genre that delights in making the holidays either celebratory or morose (or both, usually). Let’s begin with the inspiration, which you will only be unfamiliar with if you haven’t ever gone shopping during the Christmas season (highly unlikely). A seasonal perennial, Wham!’s beloved and eponymous song has inspired a film that was co-written by Emma Thompson (along with Bryony Kimmings). Thompson had actually been working on the story prior to George Michael’s death in 2016 and got his blessing to adapt it. Believe me, it gets much more interesting from there.
So, to begin: Daenerys Stormborn, er, Emilia Clarke, is a Croatian émigré named Kate who is trying to eke out a life in London, basically living out of the carry-on bag she carts around everywhere and working in one of those year-round Christmas stores, run by Santa (Yeoh, slightly one-note, but it’s the note she does well), that cater to a clientele enamored of that holiday. Kate meets-cute with Tom (Golding), a too-good-to-be-true guy who rides around the city on a bicycle and volunteers at homeless shelters, which is a subplot that while bringing in that holiday ethos of giving, is somewhat problematic in that, guess what? All the homeless people are happy for some reason. Add to that forays into the life of Kate’s sister Marta (Leonard), a successful lawyer whose relationship with another woman is being kept a secret from her mother, Petra (Thompson, clearly having fun with her accent), and their father, who is driving a minicab for money, and you have this weird convergence of holiday cheer and social commentary.
But you know what? It works. Director Paul Feig is not unfamiliar with traversing these waters of a slap and a tickle. He’ll give you the Christmas cheer and also the realities of life, and it’s helpful that Thompson and Kimmings have razor-sharp instincts when it comes to that short, sharp, shocked brand of British humor that we all love so well. And Clarke, as Kate, is luminous in the role. Of course, if you are familiar with the song, you know that someone gives their heart away, but the very next day, they give it away. The literal aspects of that song I will not spoil, but it’s fascinating that Clarke herself had to undergo multiple surgeries for a brain aneurysm after filming the first season of Game of Thrones, which makes the film all the more intriguing. A spiritual successor to Love, Actually (which is probably why it got the green light in the first place) Last Christmas is the Fight Club of holiday movies with George Michael looking from the beyond, and I couldn’t be happier.